Bastion Point


April 1978

Up the twisted back of the fish, writhing on its hook, to its whacking tail, the waka rocking above.

Tents and caravans. Muddy grass and a bitter wind. The sound of a guitar.

Down below, the magnificent view, the harbour with Rangitoto like a cold grey eye, looks up at the Point where the protest signs have been resting for the night:

Return Bastion Point to Ngati Whatua

No SubDivision!

Ngati Whatua, Tangata Whenua.

I see a young woman emerge from a caravan. Dark hair, a pale face. The sky above threatens rain. She carries a towel with her, battling the wind up the side of the hill. Across the Point, others move in the same direction. Men and women and children, carrying their towels and soap. I follow her to the big house where they huddle together gossiping in the shelter of the verandah. Maori, some other Islanders, a few Pakeha, a Chinese man. They acknowledge the woman with nods, but they don’t let her into their conversations. She makes notes in a book while she waits.

A man in a pair of gumboots and a Fairydown coat, the kind with the front-zip pocket, brings a bag of onions and dumps it at the door. ‘Donation from that church,’ he says. ‘Tell the Mrs.’ He shakes water from his hair. The woman looks down at what she’s written. She draws an X slowly through the writing, and closes the book. She stands up, and leaves the verandah, back out into the misty drizzle.

This is old land. Again, planted with flax and raupo, silvery toi-toi. But for now, stripped and covered in farm grass. I rustle through it. The woman makes her way across the paddock and back to the caravan. Inside, a man is sleeping with the sheet wound around his legs. Dark hair. Thick arms and legs. A tattoo crawling up his groin.

The rain comes, pattering on the roof. She slides into bed beside him, passes her hand over his back.

‘How’s your piece?’ he asks. He rolls over and puts his hand on her stomach.

‘I’m not doing it. I quit.’

‘That’s my girl,’ he says.